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Humanists Realm
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What is the Open Mind in the Open Society?
‘The Open Mind’

People who are prepared to change their opinions in the light of new information presented to them are said to ‘have an open mind’. When this is extended to all subjects including religion people are described as freethinkers. As well as it being necessary to have opinions, and to be prepared to change them, it is of course also vital for Humanists that they can be expressed.

John Stuart Mill expressed this view in On Liberty (1859):
‘If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind. Were an opinion a personal possession of no value except to the owner; if to be obstructed in the enjoyment of it were simply a private injury, it would make some difference whether the injury was inflicted only on a few persons or on many. But the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth; if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.’

‘The Open Society’

This is a type of society that is politically organised for the sake of the people and their chosen ends. Sir Karl Popper defined the concept as a society in which individuals are faced with personal decisions, in a way which contrasts with the totalitarian type of society where the state determines values which are then held to be above criticism. Minority groups play an important and creative part in this plural society which accepts change as natural and sees free inquiry as indispensable to democratic progress. The philosopher Plato opposed these ideas.